The Twelve Leadership Principles: Principle One

leadersFor the next twelve days, I will be posting daily one of the Twelve Principles of Quality Leadership followed by some questions you, as a leader. may wish to ask yourself. Hopefully the description and inquiry will cause you to think about how you lead and what you may need to do to improve your leadership style. Welcome aboard! And don’t forget to post some commentary. It can be a learning process for us all.


Systems, Leadership, and Teams




Continually monitor the systems you are responsible for to improve the quality of the process and, ultimately, the quality of the output.  Leaders have responsibility for the improvement of systems — this is creative and important work.  In the past, we have emphasized that the job of a manager was to watch over, maintain and inspect systems.  No more.  Our job today is to improve these systems — continually, incessantly and forever.  If we see our job as inspecting systems we can be replaced by a machine — a computer.  Our employees also see that kind of work as being not important.  If we see our job as the improvement of systems we cannot be replaced by a machine — only creative and caring people can do this kind of work and our employees know it.  This is also a good human behavior rule.  People don’t like to fail.  When they do, it is wise to look at systems first.  Only after systems are examined is it fair and safe to examine how people may have failed.  We should be trying to get at the root of the problem, not attempting to fix blame on an individual.  If a system is out of control it is only a matter of time before the next employee gets in trouble.   The solution is to fix the system.  Leaders work on the system; employees work in the system.  Standards need to be set, feedback given and control limits established.  There will be variation in performance but it should be within the established upper and lower control limits.  Variation is a fact of life and to be expected.  Those who fall below acceptable performance should not be punished.  Our JOB is to ascertain what they need from us — training, encouragement, support, feedback — in order to get them into the range of acceptable work performance.


a.  Think of three instances of an employee in trouble.  Which situations appear to be a result of a system problem and which instances appear to be a person problem?

b. How would you approach an employee who is having trouble because of a system problem?  How would you approach an employee with a person problem?  How are the two approaches different?  How do you know which problem is the result of a systems problem and which is the result of a person problem?

[From The New Quality Leadership Workbook, by Couper and Lobitz. To be published this year.]